Sicilian vegetable stew (Caponata siciliana)
The queen of the vegetable stews! I have tried many, but this one is THE ONE I like most; its sweet and sour character, colourful appearance and flavour packed soul will make any vegetarian jump for joy and turn meat eaters into part time vegetarians. The Sicilian vegetable stew is known as “Caponata Siciliana”. There are many versions of the stew on the island (apparently 37 official versions), depending on local customs, and the difference between them is that sometimes people like to add other types of vegetables, sometimes people don’t add the potatoes or sometimes they add fish to it and so on. There are many theories about the origin of the name “Caponata”; one of them says that it has Catalan origin and that around 16th century the stew was made adding a fish called “capone”. However, only aristocratic families could afford to buy this kind of fish so, around the 17th century, poor families decided to use aubergines instead of fish and the stew was consumed accompanied with bread. There is another interesting thing about this stew and this is the use of raisins and pine kernels, which is something not so unusual when you come across Sicilian dishes; this is probably because of the influence of the Arab occupation of the island between 827 AD and 1091 AD. Anyway, it is a wonderful stew and I hope you really enjoy it.
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- 500 (1.1 lb) Aubergines (diced)
- 1 Courgette (sliced)
- 1 Celery stalk (sliced)
- 75 ml (3 fl oz) Extra virgin olive oil (for the initial sauté)
- 1 Onion (cut into thin rings)
- 2 Bell peppers (one red and one yellow – sliced into strips)
- 400 grams (14 oz) Chopped tomatoes (a tin of chopped tomatoes will do)
- 1/2 tbs Dry basil (alternatively finely chop 5 leaves of fresh basil)
- 300 grams (11 oz) Potatoes (diced)
- 10 grams (1 tbs) Sugar
- 100 ml (4 fl oz) White wine vinegar
- 25 grams (1 oz) Capers
- 25 grams (1 oz) Pine kernels
- 25 grams (1 oz) Raisins
- 75 grams (3 oz) Green olives (stoned and cut in half)
- 60 grams (2 1/2 oz) Sun dried tomatoes (the ones preserved in oil will do)
- Salt and black pepper for seasoning
- 750 Light olive oil for the frying of the aubergine, courgette and celery
- Dice the aubergines, roughly 2 x 2 cm dice (3/4" x 3/4"), and put the dice into a colander, sprinkle with lots of salt and leave to rest for a couple of hours. The salt will extract the bitter dark juice from the aubergines (if you want to know more about this technique, check “preparing aubergines”, featured in the top tips section of the website). After two hours, rinse the aubergines and pat them dry before frying them.
- Meanwhile, you have plenty of time to prepare the rest of the vegetables. Slice the courgette into 3 mm (1/8") thick slices. Do the same with the celery.
- Peel the skin off the peppers. If your pepper have a full round profile, a peeler will save you lots of hassle; otherwise you can use a pairing knife and with a bit of patience you will get the job done.
- Then, cut the peppers into strips, roughly 5 cm (2") long and 5 mm (3/16") thick; I wouldn’t go any thicker than this because it will be more difficult to sauté them.
- This is the stage where the vegetables are ready to be fried. The timing for the frying is dictated by the aubergines, which need to go through a self cleaning process before to use them. Once the aubergines are ready, lay the vegetables to be fried onto a kitchen towels and see the next stage.
- Just before you start frying, revive the raisins soaking them in lukewarm water for about 15-20 minutes, then drain them using a little sieve and set aside.
- Put the light olive oil into a pan suitable for deep frying. Heat the oil until it gets the right temperature for frying.
- Start with the aubergines, frying the dice for about 4 minutes.
- After 4 minutes, remove the aubergine dice with a slotted spoon and put them into a large bowl lined with kitchen paper, to absorb the excess oil.
- Using the same oil, fry the courgette for 4 minutes and then put them onto kitchen paper.
- The same applies for the celery. Fry for 4 minutes and then put the slices onto kitchen paper.
- Finally, once the excess oil is absorbed, then you can put all three fried vegetables together and set aside.
- The next step is the initial sauté. Put the extra virgin olive oil into a large pan, bring the heat to medium and gently start to sauté the onion.
- When the onion starts softening (I would say after 2-3 minutes), add the peppers and continue with the sauté.
- Give it a good stir so that both the onion and pepper are well coated with oil. Continue cooking until the onion becomes well golden in colour. This is the stage where you add the chopped tomatoes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes.
- Give it a good stir.
- Add the dry basil.
- Give it a good stir.
- Add the diced potatoes.
- Give it a good stir. If you think the sauce is too dry, there is nothing wrong in adding half a glass (roughly 100 ml – 3/8 cup) of boiled water.
- Cover with the lid and cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat.
- After 10 minuets, add the sugar.
- Add the vinegar.
- Add the capers.
- Add the pine kernels.
- Add the raisins.
- Add the green olives.
- Finally, add the sun dried tomatoes (roughly cut into pieces). I used sun dried tomatoes from a jar, the ones preserved in sunflower oil, so these were already soft. If you want to use the very dried ones you can buy in a sachet, remember to soak them first into lukewarm water to soften them a bit.
- Give it a good stir.
- Season with salt.
- Season with pepper.
- Add the fried vegetables into the pan.
- Give it a good stir. Also in this case, if you think that the stew is too dry, half a glass of boiled water will help (this is what I did).
- Cover with the lid and continue cooking for about 20 minutes over very low heat, gently stirring once or twice.
- After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool down; traditionally it is best served cold (some people prefer it still hot).
- Use some home made bread to prepare a bruschetta-like dish. Slice the bread.
- Heat a cast iron grill pan.
- Once the pan is piping hot, grill the bread on both sides.
- Finally, serve the vegetable stew over a slice of bread.PS: this is where a good glass of south Italian red wine will come handy, to complete this Sicilian experience!
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!